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Tokyo Mayhem and Yukata Style

We whirlwind-ed our way through a short Japanese excursion and christ, I realized that city travel with two small children ain’t no cup of tea.  I’m motivated to travel with these guys, REALLY motivated, BUT, if that meant subway, cab, and training it for weeks on end through bustling metropolises, I might throw in my towel.  With that said, our short and sweet Japanese getaway was splendid and definitely made me want to see MORE of Japan.

First, I’ll get my Hyatt tangent out of the way, or not (see below).  We opted for the Hyatt Regency Tokyo over the Park Hyatt, even though I longed to feel like Scarlet Johanssen in Lost in Translation (figured that making friends with Bill Murray would be a long shot and the Regency cost us 7000 points less per night).  If you can get past the disconnected, slightly gauty decor of the lobby and the small rooms, the location is convenient (a short walk from Shinjuku Station) and despite the not-so-toddler friendly Regency Club, cocktail hour was delicious.

After a night in Tokyo, we boarded a train bound for Hakone.  After 5 hours and three train changes, we arrived in Gora… the location of Hakone Hyatt Regency Resort and Spa.  Like I’ve mentioned before, Hyatts end up defining our family vacations these days (mostly because of my opportunisticly frugal house-wife self) and NONE have I felt more pleased with than http://hakone.regency.hyatt.com.  BEAUTIFULLY designed, IMPECCABLY appointed, and SERENELY peaceful.  Which was more than welcomed after being told by the ubber polite receptionist that no, we could not get a free ride from their shuttle with kids under 6 (to which I bitched and moaned and assumed it was going to be a repressive, sterile concentration camp of a hotel) and that we’d have to take ANOTHER train, over an hour, through switchbacks, up one hell of a mountain.  I was grateful, to be real, as that train ride turned out to be quite spectacular: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hakone_Tozan_Line.

Okay, okay.  Our trip and correspondingly, this post, is a bit Hyatt-centric (no, I’m not cool enough to be sponsored by them)… but let me get to the best part.  Gora, Hyatt Hakone, and Yukata Style.  After trying to make our way by stroller up what we found out was a mountain nearly the size of K2 to the hotel, we settled in and went to http://www.gorakadan.com for dinner.  Though far more expensive than my frugalness had hoped to spend on dinner, we dined in a private room on a coursed meal of fresh Japanese dishes and it was all made worthwhile when we were offered a ride back to our hotel in a sick Mercedes.  Ballers.  Staying at the Hyatt only because we could for free, with hotel points.  Double ballers.

During a personal tour through our immaculate room, we were told about this Yucuta Style and its suggested uses around the hotel.  We were told that we could/should (I’m still not sure) wear our Yucuta’s in all of the communal hotel spaces.  And so, we did as we were told.  Which meant that we were among a very small handful of people who executed our orders (or suggestions, I can’t be sure).  So here we are, four VERY obvious causasian folks, decked to the gills in our Japanese gear.  I almost felt like I was mocking the culture because of my eager naivety to embrace the style.  If we wouldn’t have been bringing it with our bells on, though, the world would be denied these epic-ly cute photos.

After the most relaxing of days (the hotel had a hot springs, called an Onsen – gender separated, clothing not-not optional – and to which there was a very specific ritual surrounding), we headed back to HOLY-SHIT-NOW-I-KNOW-WHAT-MAXIMUM-CAPACITY-LOOKS-LIKE, Tokyo.  And ventured through Shibuya and Harajuku (tear drop, I didn’t get to see the girls).  AND FAILED AT MY ATTEMPT TO SEEK OUT THE PLAYGROUNDS OF THE WORLD.  Damn me, damn us.  We saw a super piddly looking one while exploring through neighborhoods, hardly worth documenting.  Next time we’re in Japan, I’ll make it my mission.  Assuming that I’m not still in a selfish, lets just make the kids tag along and do whatever we want to do, mentality.

In short, great trip, much too quick but without which, Safari wouldn’t have been able to watch Alvin and the Chipmucks: Chipwrecked, 4 times, start to finish, on the flight home.

 

Taiwan – An Entirely Different Brand of China

Mainland China (the PRC – Peoples Republic of China) thinks it has dominion over Taiwan (ROC – Republic of China) and the ROC thinks it has legal control over all of China – but the two seem at least for now, to coexist peacefully.  Totally Chinese but totally not chinese, Taiwan has a unique identity.

We were able to spend a few days in Taipei, again tagging along with Daddy on business.  We stayed at the Hyatt, adjacent to Taipei 101, all 90 something floors of it.  We have, at this point, stayed at dozens of Hyatts (Daddy travels A LOT for work and accrues A LOT of hotel points) – vacations are often planned with the parameter of “where can we get on United and stay at a Hyatt”.  Anyway, I figure I should start, as a piece of my adventure blogging, document the Hyatts we stay at (for free).  So, here goes my first:

Hotel:  Hyatt Regency Taipei

Particulars:  Older hotel, nice enough suite (free upgrade).  Great service.  Decent Pool.

Highlights:  Child fun packs equipped with a new toothbrush, toothpaste and soft squishy teddy [bear]… and child sized white hotel slippers!, ridiculous but adorable.  Breakfast and cocktail hour were bomb – much better than those we often encounter.  Great views (see below).

Now that we’re done with that, onto much more interesting details of our time in Taipei.  We went to a very cool series of old coal mining villages turned touristy due to a train built to carry coal that has been turned into one that moves people.  In the town of Ping Hsi, you can write your loveliest dreams onto a paper lantern, that is then fueled with fire and sent up in the atmosphere to burn and make all your wishes come true.  Though I fundamentally don’t like the idea of sending anything up into the sky for the earth’s sake, let alone a giant fire bearing lantern (further supported by the first lantern we saw released getting caught in phone lines above our heads, sending burning pieces floating to the ground around us), I was convinced that it’d be worth the experience for the *sake* of the kids.  So, up we sent our adorned purple lantern (Safari picked), to burn to ashes and litter the land.

Taipei has incredible night markets, which anyone who has been, will surely tell you about.  My take away from the night market was this photo (which actually was quite common as I found out.  There was a “nursery” in the airport, with a crib and all):

And, finally, I’ll leave you with these:

Yes, his nails really were that dirty and yes, they look like that A LOT.

Sassy, even after I made a waffle offering to her gods.

All in all, Taiwan is a cleaner, less chaotic… I hate to say it, more westernized (for better or for worse), version of China.  Where there seem to be traffic laws that people obey and elevators that *sometimes* run below capacity.  AND, having a stroller gets you VIP access EVERYWHERE.  Which, as we’ve learned on this trip, is the shit when crossing borders and standing in security lines.  They want to get you and your little ratbags through as quickly as possible.

 

China and Pork Consumption

“China is the biggest pork producer in the world—almost all of its 50 million metric tons of production in 2010 (half of all the pork in the world) was consumed domestically” (http://iatp.typepad.com/thinkforward/2011/05/the-global-impact-of-chinas-pig-industry.html).  The Chinese eat A LOT of pork.

We’ve been in China for almost three weeks and I’ve consumed more pork than cumulatively in my 28 + years of life.  I’m not proud of it and it’s a far cry from my dairy, meat, grain, and sugar free diet I had temporarily adopted prior to flying across the Pacific, but as they say, when in China, eat as the Chinese do.  Barbequed pork, pork wontons, minced pork in everything under the sun, and the list goes on.  I have generally looked at tofu as being a vegetarian meat alternative, well, not in China.  Part of said pork has been consumed alongside tofu.  Every day I tell myself that I will not consume pork and will generally be more particular about my meat consumption… and then I realize that I slipped down that slope the day I arrived.  I’ve even encouraged my kids to eat it.  Again, not my proudest moment.  But damn, when it melts in your mouth like it’s the sweetest piece of bacon you used to never let yourself have but salivated at the smell of, it’s just hard to say no.

I’m a struggling would-be vegetarian.  I was able to live almost a decade of my life by those ideals but since having kids, I’ve struggled… let’s be honest, since having kids, MANY of my ideals have given way to more convenient unideal realities. In an effort to find self discipline, I’m going to do a bit more research on Chinese pork production and see if that doesn’t curb the habit…

Crap!  It looks like the Chinese government’s little internet drone that blocks my access to websites just as the page is loading is at it again.  Apparently they don’t want bad press on their pig industry, which I deduced from the brief search that I was able to read, is BIG business here in China.  That can’t mean good things.

For now, I’m going to pretend that the pigs that end up on my plate are from a small family farm just down the road, the one sandwiched between gigantically modern high rise skyscrapers.  The one across from the modern loft apartment building that houses multiple families in a shanty.

Maybe, tomorrow I’ll live up my ideals.  Today I may just eat some pork wrapped asparagus.